Book World for young readers: 'Archie and the Pirates' by Marc Rosenthal

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


By Marc Rosenthal

Harper. $16.99. Ages 4-7

A smiling monkey, improbably but cozily tucked into bed, bobs peacefully adrift on a vast sweep of blue sea while an ocean liner steams away over the edge of the horizon. It's enough to make you wonder and worry. But do not fear -- all is well! This is no ordinary ape, this is Archie, uber-survivor. His boat-bed fetches up on an island shore inhabited by a lion (dangerous!) and coconuts (delicious!). He builds himself a dandy shelter (comfortable!) and a bed that is also a breakfast table (clever!). He makes friends with an "inquisitive ibis" (Clarice), and even the tiger (Beatrice) comes to love him: "His sweater reminds her of her cubs." Still, any adventure would be mighty dull without the addition of "rough and smelly pirates," and right on cue, they show up on the shore to capture Beatrice! "What to do?!! It seems hopeless." Survival, however, is not Archie's only skill. He is also a terrific organizer. Soon, every non-piratical inhabitant of the island is busily enmeshed in retaliatory schemes, and "Sploosh," "Splat," "Hooray!" the odiferous villains flee. If the present-tense narrative, the faux hand-lettered text and the can-do community of all-too-human animals are highly reminiscent of a certain elephant kingdom of long-ago fame, it doesn't dim the fun one bit. Archie's antics are all his own, and the world he builds is as congenial and clever as the contraptions he dreams up.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


His Fight for Freedom

By John Hendrix

Abrams. $18.95. Ages 8-12

On some pages in this picture-book biography of John Brown, the famous abolitionist resembles a tall-tale hero, a la Paul Bunyan, six times the height of his sheep. But sometimes he seems like the Old Testament God, as he points his powerful hand with righteous anger. Brown proclaims, "I will raise a storm in this country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil," and a few pages later he's pictured as "a great fuming tornado," sweeping "across the plains to fight for Kansas." Set alongside such dramatic and impressively rendered illustrations, John Hendrix's text is agreeably lucid, clearly explaining the tenor and terms of Brown's turbulent era. Hendrix notes that, even before he attacked Harpers Ferry in what's now West Virginia, Brown was considered both "a crazed madman" and "a folk hero." Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass called him an ally, but Douglass didn't believe in Brown's Harpers Ferry plan and its recipe for martyrdom. In his author's note, Hendrix offers his reasons for focusing on this controversial figure: "The goals of his crusade were . . . freedom for all who were persecuted." The ensuing discussions of Brown's ends and means will be well worth having.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan

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